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UTILITIES | Krisana Gallezo-Estaura, Singapore
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Why Aussie’s copycat of Singapore’s NeWater fails

Recycled sewage water accounts for up to 30% of Singapore’s water needs but it only consists less than 1% in Australia and guess who’s to blame?

According to Seetharam Kallidaikurichi E., principal water and urban development specialist at Asian Development Bank, it’s the mass media that propagate negative perception on treated sewage water.

“Australia’s waste water reuse failed because of lack of proper public information unlike in Singapore. Australia’s mass media has played a major role in spreading the ‘yuck’ factor,” he said while citing a study titled “Turning the Tide: Informal Institute Change in Water Reuse” by PhD students Leong Ching and David Yu at National University of Singapore (NUS).

The study found out that Singapore has more inclination toward “positive” story lines on water reuse than in the case of Australia. On news reports and commentaries collected in each country for instance, the proportions of the frequency of the negative mentions of “yuck” was more than 20% in Australia compared to just 2% in Singapore. Moreover, stories which are indicative of favorable social norm toward water reuse were much higher in Singapore at 76.7% than Australia’s 29.4%.

The study also looks into the early phases of media representation of the issue in both countries, which according to the authors is essential for norm formation. Media interest for water reuse in Singapore began building up between 1997 and 2001 and story lines according to the study was overwhelmingly positive with 84% of the reports on the topic being positive and none being were negative. In Australia meanwhile, at early phase of media interest between 2001 and 2005, the media perception was neutral – more than half of the reports were positive and one-third negative.

One significant breakthrough in Singapore is NEWater, which Singapore launched in 2003 in its drive to be more self-sufficient in water. In 2007, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) revealed that it has received numerous requests from the Australian media for samples of its Newater, ever since Prime Minister John Howard called for sewage water recycling to meet the nation’s water crisis.

According to Mr. Kallidaikurichi however, attempts to replicate NeWater in Australia continue to fail because of negative public perception.

Singapore in recent years has increased production capacity of NEWater. With the completion of Singapore’s fifth and largest NEWater plant (which is located at Changi) in 2010, NEWater could meet up to 30% of Singapore's water needs.

Going forward, Singapore plans to increase the capacity of the Changi NEWater Plant and build another plant at Tuas. Long-term goal is that by 2060, NeWater would account for 50% of the country’s water demand.
 

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